Four Poems

Robert Pack


I fainted dead away beside the plate

Of juicy shrimp that rainy evening meant

To gather critics there to celebrate

My lecture on poetic form, intent.

Revived among dark faces circling me—

There was my literary ally, Paul,

Who leaned down hazy close—I could well see

Distress upon his sunken face for all

The losses our long friendship shared; concern

From him passed into me and made me limp.

A doctor took my leaping pulse to learn,

Was I allergic to such foods as shrimp?

Up from unconscious depths came my reply:

“No, but I am allergic to free verse.”

The “Oh” that lunged from Paul’s tight lips, his sigh

On hearing my smart-ass remark (no worse,

I think, than some he’d heard before) remains

The most melodious to sooth me when

My stressed-out heart speaks of its beating pains,

Its bare regrets. Paul told the doctor then:

“He is not ready to give up the fight:

I’ll know when Bob’s near death; he’ll be all right.”


Here’s what we know—incredible

as it may seem, since we can’t get

our minds around the concept of

blank nothingness: Space/time began

when Big Bang generated everything;

that’s right, there was no time, no anything,

before the Big Bang start, and so the laws

that govern nature as we know them now—

the interplay of energy and mass,

the formula E equals m c squared—

came into being when space/time commenced.

But whoa! How did those laws know what

to formulate if they were not

already written somehow in the void,

in some Platonic realm, even before

there was a single universe in which

the laws of math could operate—perhaps

as paradigms for freedom within fate,

or maybe for the need to hold desire

within some limits of constraint?

Did not these laws then have to be,

from sheer necessity, transcendent laws—

laws that a math professor might

be tempted to define, “Pi in the sky,”

laws that the wild-browed Einstein speculated

God Himself would have to follow since

He’d have no choice if He desired

to fabricate one universe that worked?

How can these two conditions equally

be true at once? I’m sure you’d like to know.

How can the cosmic laws of physics come

into Big Bang existence only when

existence starts its evolutionary journey

to its consummation in inventing love,

and yet precede existence in some realm

where numbers dwell, timeless and absolute,

where Pi unfolds into an unknown end?

My mind whirls in a vertigo when I

attempt to comprehend such things.

But that’s enough of small talk for tonight;

all that I meant to say is that you are

the only one, the one and only one

to hold me steady in this swirl of stars

and dust in an expanding universe.

What chance is there you’ll go to bed with me?


One cannot tell a hospital stood here;

The rubble just as well could be a church.

How many are still buried? We all fear

More dead will turn up in tomorrow’s search.

No water, but a coke machine still works.

A radio without a listener

Plays songs of unrequited love; the quirks

And twists of human longing rend the air.

There is no one to blame, no one to hate,

And yet the dead remain exactly so;

Profoundly mute, they’ve nothing to relate,

Though I imagine they’d be cheered to know

This was not caused by terrorists within

Our midst, or punishment for human sin.


Most of the students in my Shakespeare class

Had come from homes with violated vows;

They doubted that their lives would safely pass

Without nuclear war or private woes:

Their failure to find meaning in the mess

Of all the battling ideologies,

Their fear that daily work was meaningless.

The bard’s Macbeth, although a rousing read,

Did not depict for them the harmony

In marriage or in childrearing they sought.

I watched the students scrutinizing me.

“Have you been married long?” one blurted forth.

“Forty-five years,” said I. Their breathless pause

Was followed by spontaneous applause.

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